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Copper Canyon

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Roger: Here's a copy of an article I just submitted to Road Signs, the San Diego BMW club newsletter. You might find the info useful for south of the border travel. Dan


South of the border logistics


Many club members have questions about riding south of the border. The following attempts to answer some questions about paperwork, money, riding conditions, health, etc.


Insurance: It’s a good idea to carry insurance on your bike for any trip south of the border. It can be purchased by the day before crossing the border or, for those who cross regularly, an annual policy may be cheapest. There are two versions of the annual policy: one for all of Mexico and a less expensive one for travel only in Baja or the northern tier of border states. A one year, liability only policy for all of Mexico costs me about $200 for my GS. Some companies, for an extra premium, will also include property damage, towing, medical, legal, etc.


Tourist card: A tourist card is required for stays of 3 days or more or for travel south of the border area. In mainland Mexico that means 15 miles south of the border. In Baja the distance has recently been extended to San Quintín. A passport, voter registration card, or original birth certificate are required to get the tourist card. It is issued at the border and the fee, about $20, must be paid at a bank within 3 days of getting the card.


Vehicle importation: Except for all of Baja, a vehicle traveling past the border zone needs a temporary importation certificate from Mexican Customs (Aduana). If the vehicle has a lien against it or is leased, a letter stating that it is OK to take the vehicle into Mexico is needed from the lien or lease holder. A tourist card is also a prerequisite. Make copies of your tourist card, driver’s license, registration and the letter (if applicable) and present them along with the originals to Customs which will fill out a form to be taken to a bank, usually located next to customs. About $20 will be charged to your credit card. If you don’t have a credit card you will have to post a bond based on the value of the vehicle. Customs will then issue a holographic sticker good for 6 months, multiple entry. The temporary importation must be cancelled at Customs within the six month period. If it is not cancelled within the period, the bond will be forfeited or an equivalent charge lodged against your credit card.


Health: Minor health problems can usually be taken care of at a pharmacy. Prescriptions are not needed for many drugs, such as antibiotics, as in the US. All but the smallest pueblos will have doctors and larger cities usually have well equipped hospitals. Bruce Rogers and I signed up with MedJet International, www.medjet.com, for medical evacuation insurance developed in conjunction with BMWOA. If you are seriously ill anyplace in the world they will evacuate you to a hospital of your choice in the US. Plus, in the US, Mexico and Canada they will also return your motorcycle to your home. Cost of this insurance is $195/yr for an individual and $245 for a couple.


The fear of La Turista, also known as Montezuma’s Revenge, keeps many people from enjoying the great food in Mexico. Bruce and I eat everywhere on our trips in Mexico; street stands, markets stalls, very simple restaurants and have yet to get sick. For those with delicate stomachs, Pepto Bismol 3 times a day acts as a great prophylaxis to prevent or minimize problems.


Money: ATM machines are available everywhere and give the best exchange rate. Using an ATM card rather than a Debit Card is better because additional fees are charged against the Debit Card. I also carry a few hundred dollars for emergencies but rarely have had to exchange bills. Banks may have very limited hours, another advantage to using an ATM card because ATM machines are usually available 7/24.


Lodging & Parking: Most hotels and motels have secure parking but, if not, will allow bikes to be parked in the lobby or in front of your room if you can get them into the hotel. When hotel parking is not available there usually are secure lots nearby. The lots are locked at night, may have someone living in them or have dogs to guard them.


Many towns have “no-tell” motels on the edge of town where rooms rent by the hour. They are best avoided. A telltale sign of this type of motel is that it will be behind high walls with no clear view into the motel and each room will have parking that hides the vehicle from the view of other rooms.


Gasoline: Gasoline is expensive - at this writing about $2.55/gal for Premium. Most stations are modern and the gas is clean and water free. If Premium is not available, Magna Sin, 89 octane, works just fine. Always make sure that the pump is zeroed before pumping and that you count your change at the stations. Also be suspicious if, for no apparent reason, you are directed to a different pump from the one at which you stopped. The “special” pump may have magical, gas tank expanding properties. It will pump more gas than the capacity of your tank.


Roads: Mexican roads are surprisingly good for the most part. Toll roads are very lightly traveled because they are so expensive - about $5 for 60 miles. A few hours on a toll road plus the expensive gas quickly adds up. All major roads have Green Angel coverage. These are green trucks driven by mechanics who provide free repairs, including gas, in case of a breakdown. They usually cover their sector of the road twice a day so you may have to wait a while.


Road signs can be confusing or nonexistent and routes through towns often not well marked. It’s always a good idea to know the name of the next large city on your route and follow the signs to it or ask for directions to that town if there are no signs. Few people know route numbers but they do know how to get to the next town. Policemen in towns may be no help at all not even knowing street names or places just a few blocks from where they are standing. I once was looking for a Chinese restaurant and asked a policeman where it was. He assured me there were no Chinese restaurants nearby. We were no more than 20 feet from the door to the restaurant.


Security: There are military and police checkpoints throughout the country. Their purpose is to interdict contraband - drugs and arms especially. Military checkpoints usually are mobile, not always in the same place. Sometimes none of the soldiers speaks English which may delay things a bit. The checkpoints can be especially disconcerting to Americans because we don’t have them in the US. Young, heavily armed soldiers stop vehicles and question the occupants and may search the vehicle. In almost all cases with motorcycles the search is perfunctory. They are mostly curious about what you have packed and within a few minutes you’re on your way. If there is a long line at the checkpoint, motorcycles can jump to the head of it.


State and Federal police checkpoints are usually in a fixed location, have trailers or buildings and may have inspection pits to look under vehicles. They too are polite and someone will usually speak some English.


Traffic Offences: You might be stopped for a real or phony offense. If you are stopped by highway police who drive black and whites like the California Highway Patrol and their car says something like Federales de Caminos, they are incorruptible. They may just chew you out or give you a ticket. Other police may look at the stop as a revenue (for them) generating opportunity. Never keep more than $50 in your wallet. They may offer to settle the “fine” on the spot and quote some outrageous amount. You can usually settle for some amount less than you have in your wallet saying you need money for gas, a phone call, etc. It rarely happens outside of very large cities, but it’s always a risk. In my opinion it is better to settle on the spot rather than have them confiscate your license. You then have to go to the city to appear before a judge to get it back. Between the inconvenience and the expense of hotels, etc. it’s easier to arrange something by the side of the road.


Repair parts: There are about a half dozen BMW motorcycle dealerships in Mexico and a parts warehouse in Toluca outside Mexico City. Coupled with the excellent bus service in Mexico, parts can be delivered anywhere within a few days. The problem comes in paying for the parts. Credit cards are not accepted over the phone; they must be presented and processed in person. However it may be possible to get parts without having to go to the dealership yourself. One dealer said funds could be deposited in their account in a bank with a local branch. Once the dealership verified the deposit the parts would be shipped.

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